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Politics


Vince Gray could win a seat on the DC Council if he decides to run, a poll says

If former mayor Vince Gray decides to make a political comeback, he'd be very likely to unseat either Vincent Orange for an at-large seat on the DC Council or Yvette Alexander in Ward 7, according to a new poll.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Former Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies raised money for a citywide poll. Public Policy Polling surveyed 1,569 people likely to vote in the June Democratic primary, including 407 in Ward 7, using an automated telephone system where people press buttons in response to questions.

Would Orange challengers split the vote (again)?

For the at-large seat, incumbent Vincent Orange is expected to run for re-election. Two challengers, David Garber and Robert White, have announced candidacies to beat him, and both have good ideas for the future of DC, but there's a significant danger that both could split the vote from similar constituencies.

Orange has often pursued a divisive strategy in his races of playing on fears from some "old DC" voters and communities against newcomers. This has certainly left him vulnerable: only 28% of voters citywide see him favorably.

The City Paper's Will Sommer thinks vote splitting will happen, giving Orange another term, should Gray not run in that race. It's still somewhat unclear what would happen in that situation; the poll only asked about a field that also included Busboys and Poets restaurateur and recent mayoral candidate Andy Shallal.

In that scenario, if the primary were held today, Orange would get 28% of the vote, Shallal 19%, Garber 8%, and White 7%. However, most voters don't know Garber or White, with more than three-quarters having no opinion of either.

If Gray were to run, he leads the pack with 32% of voters, versus 20% for Orange, 10% for Garber, and 6% for White. (It might just be a statistical fluke, but this suggests some Shallal voters would go to Garber.)

The clear question is how this could change over the course of a campaign. Is about a third of the vote a ceiling for Gray, who won about that percentage of the vote in the 2014 mayoral primary? And would that be enough anyway in a split field? Would Garber or White gain Gray voters, or Gray win some Orange voters, or other combinations?

For the Ward 7 seat, Gray polled 48% to Alexander's 32%. Gray had higher name recognition and favorable ratings than Alexander, though Alexander's favorables are much better than Orange's.

You can read all of the citywide and Ward 7 results here.

Were writers and prosecutors unfair to Gray?

The poll also asked if people think federal investigators or the media treated Gray fairly or unfairly. Generally, black voters were much more likely to say that Gray was treated unfairly.

Count me in the minority of white voters who think Gray was treated unfairly by prosecutors. We might still not know for certain everything that happened in the illegal 2010 "shadow campaign," but the US Attorney's office absolutely became a player in the 2014 election by announcing suspicions of Gray weeks before the primary.

I spoke to some voters outside polling places at the primary, and many knew virtually nothing about the race except that they wanted to vote for whoever would beat Gray. Unfortunately, they generally didn't know a thing about Gray's own policy positions and views.

He consistently supported efforts to give residents more transportation choices, including better bus service, a stronger Metro system, bike infrastructure, and safe places to walk. He pushed for new housing to welcome new residents and keep room for long-time ones, even suggesting targeted changes to the federal height limit to create areas like Paris' La Défense near the Anacostia River.

It's hard to say if the media really treated Gray unfairly. Some columnists and editorial writers who were fans of Adrian Fenty never forgave Gray for beating him. On the other hand, nobody could expect the press to ignore a scandal so serious as the shadow campaign. I think most media coverage did concentrate too much on personalities rather than on the issues that really affect life in DC.

Many people saw him as just being the anti-Adrian Fenty and a return to some things they didn't like about Marion Barry, but Gray continued most of Fenty's policies. He did better in some spheres and worse in others. Certainly, the streetcar project was not executed well, and past and future transportation directors like Emeka Moneme, Gabe Klein, and Leif Dormsjo were more effective than Gray's pick of Terry Bellamy.

But Gray was also an exemplary council chair, perhaps the best in some time. I'd like Muriel Bowser to have a chance to demonstrate her vision and governing ability before there's too much talk about the 2018 mayoral race; so far, her cabinet has been very high-quality (with a few exceptions). But if Vincent Gray were to return to the DC Council, residents who want to see DC move forward boldly but inclusively would have a lot to cheer.

Note: The Greater Greater Washington Editorial Board has not yet chosen to endorse any candidates for the 2016 election. This post is David Alpert's personal opinion as Greater Greater Washington's founder.

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Politics


Arlington's naysayer-in-chief is now its chair. Will she move the county forward?

Two years ago, Libby Garvey was the lone voice on the Arlington County Board opposing most of the county's major capital projects. On January 1, she was elected the board's chair.


Garvey. Image from Arlington County.

Garvey has spent most of the last two years being most vocal about what she was against. We're familiar with her opposition to the controversial Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar, but that was only the most visible such campaign.

The streetcar represented a compromise among unattainable ideals. Metro is too expensive to build under Columbia Pike, and a dedicated bus or rail lane is not physically possible. Yet the street is reaching the limit of what more and larger buses could achieve, making some higher-capacity transit solution necessary.

Not being able to offer high speeds, however, made the project's costs look less worthwhile, and Garvey led the fight against the project, even going to Richmond to try to talk Virginia officials out of sending state money to Arlington County.

This was always about much more than the streetcar

Garvey's opposition fit into a broader backlash against the Democratic Party establishment in Arlington. A disaffected group including Peter Rousselot, a former county party chairman who formed the anti-streetcar group, Garvey, and John Vihstadt attacked the county board's actions and spending, sometimes fairly, sometimes deceptively.

Some residents were frustrated with ways the county government had been unresponsive and non-transparent. Others wanted to see a more conservative shift amid a period of economic difficulty, where sequestration and BRAC cut incomes and removed federal jobs.

Rousselot, later joined by Garvey, waged a campaign against county spending with high-profile projects like the Artisphere in Rosslyn or an aquatic center in Long Bridge Park. The streetcar was the biggest fight, and Rousselot's group won over some voters who genuinely didn't support it after weighing the pros and cons, but also fooled many others with impractical comparisons to imaginary, unrealistic "alternatives."

What's next, for Garvey and for Arlington?

A year after the county board suddenly reversed course and canceled the streetcar, the county's current vision is drastically less ambitious than it was five or ten years ago. The only ideas for transportation in Garvey's public statements thus far are small-scale bus improvements like letting people pay the fare before boarding and having signals give them more green time—potentially valuable, certainly, but ultimately likely to have minor impact at best on Columbia Pike's and Crystal City's transit capacity needs.

Garvey has also started criticizing county officials for not moving faster to implement these, even though it was clear when the streetcar was canceled that it would take time to replace a transportation project decades in the making.

A big part of the reason for choosing rail, with its concomitant costs, was to drive significant new development to Columbia Pike, to make it the next booming corridor like (though somewhat more modest than) Rosslyn-Ballston. The plan also used the revenue from this development to pay for large quantities of new and preserved affordable housing.

People can debate whether the streetcar would have done this, or that the reason it's not happening now isn't because of the economy instead, but right now the idea that Columbia Pike will ignite into the county's next big growth area (while protecting lower-income residents) seems distant.

The rhetoric from Arlington used to be one of great vision—that Arlington could grow substantially without adding traffic, could use transit to enormously improve people's mobility and reduce car dependence, and could provide first-class public services to make the county a top place to live. Now the talk at the county board is mostly about customer service, civic participation, and sign regulations—again, all valuable, to be sure, but without big ideas.

It's not just Arlington. There has been a similar trend in many jurisdictions around the region to shrink our ambition and work on little things. But this isn't the kind of thinking that propelled Arlington to transform itself when Metro arrived.

Garvey gains an opponent

Perhaps the coming year will offer opportunities for Arlingtonians to choose a vision once more. Planning Commission member Erik Gutshall has announced he will challenge Garvey for the Democratic nomination in June.

Gutshall said he wants "to engage our community in a forward-looking vision for Arlington." We can look forward to hearing more about what kind of vision he might have in mind. Meanwhile, Garvey will have a few months to start articulating some vision of her own.

It's always easier to criticize the work of others than to get something done yourself. Denouncing the county's work from the sidelines helped Garvey get into office and elect some allies. This year will be a chance for her to demonstrate she can also lead—or have this turn at the chair be her last.

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Politics


Will vote-splitting help Vincent Orange win again?

Vincent Orange has been a terrible at-large member of the DC Council. David Garber is running to unseat him in the coming Democratic primary, and now there are reports that Robert White will jump in as well. Can DC avoid the vote-splitting that has stymied reformers' past electoral efforts?


Photo by Sheila Sund on Flickr.

In his last primary in 2012, Orange faced a crowded field of challengers. In the end, Orange won the nomination with 42% of the vote. Sekou Biddle got 39%, Peter Shapiro 11%, and E. Gail Anderson Holness 8%.

Many voters, including a lot from the Greater Greater Washington community, were torn between Biddle and Shapiro, both of whom would have been good councilmembers in their own right, not to mention far better than Orange.

The same thing happened in the special election the previous year, when Orange got into office with 29% of the vote versus 25% for Patrick Mara, 20% for Sekou Biddle, and 13% for Bryan Weaver, all of whom, again, would have been good councilmembers.

What's so bad about Orange?

Vincent Orange made headlines in 2013 for intervening to stop public health officials from shutting down a wholesale food business with a rat infestation.

Orange was admonished by the then-new ethics board. He was the first public official to face sanction by the board, which was created after multiple councilmembers resigned for ethical issues spanning a spectrum up to outright corruption.

Orange has a poor record on housing and transportation as well. He rushed to propose a blanket moratorium on homeowners adding onto their homes or renting out parts of their houses in row house zones. His overly broad (and likely illegal) bill would have exacerbated DC's housing crunch and shut the doors to new residents.

When the council was hotly debating whether to tax out-of-state bonds, Orange agreed to support an amendment by Tommy Wells on the condition that Wells would agree to set aside $500,000 for an Emancipation Day parade at the Lincoln Theatre, whose board Orange serves on.


David Garber. Image from the candidate's website.

Will the field narrow before the primary?

At David Garber's campaign kickoff, supporters likened him to Brianne Nadeau, who took out long-serving Ward 1 member Jim Graham in part by focusing on Graham's scrapes with ethics issues.

Nadeau also had one more advantage: a clearer field. She was able to build up a strong enough campaign that others decided not to run as well.

That's now not going to be the case. Personally, I like both Garber and White and would love to see both on the council. But I worry that both will draw from overlapping, though not identical, bases of support, again threatening a vote split.


Robert White. Image from the candidate's Facebook page.

Absent technology to fuse the two into a super duper "Dobert Warber," either one of them would have to singlehandedly amass more votes than Orange, or convince the other to drop out of the race either early or late in the process. (Or the DC Council could institute instant runoff voting or some similar system, though that's very unlikely to happen in time, if at all.)

In places with real competition between two parties, primaries serve this role. There's a vote, and most of the time the loser of a primary goes and supports the winner in that same party. But everyone's a Democrat this time. In some places, like California, the primary is nonpartisan, and the top two winners go on to the general even if both are Democrats or Republicans. We don't have that either.

In a presidential primary, the series of state primaries and caucuses helps winnow the field by demonstrating which candidates have real electoral strength and which don't. DC also does not have any kind of rotating set of ward primaries.

What could narrow the field?

What to do? We need some sort of mechanism for fairly identifying one who has the better electoral strength, whether through polls or some other method. Both candidates should then take a pledge that whichever one wins this kind of pre-primary will go up against Orange one-on-one.

To get candidates to sign on, voters, volunteers, and donors also need to agree only to support a candidate who himself signs the pledge and/or to ultimately support the pre-primary winner.

If I had more time, I'd try to meet with candidates, political operatives, big donors, and others behind the scenes to push this idea. But I don't, so I'll just write it on a blog. What do you think?

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Politics


Virginia has a primary Tuesday. Here's the urbanist scoop on the candidates

Virginia's elections for many local offices are this year, and the primary is Tuesday, June 9. There are competitive races in the Democratic primaries for Arlington County Board, Alexandria mayor, two Fairfax supervisor seats, and the 45th legislative district.


Virginia voting image from Shutterstock.

I asked our Virginia-based contributors what they think of the candidates in these races. Who is good on smart growth, transit, walking and bicycling, and other issues we cover? Who has a strong vision and the ability to work with people to achieve it?

Arlington

Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada were both up for re-election to the Arlington County Board this year. After John Vihstadt won a full term and the board canceled the Columbia Pike streetcar, Hynes and Tejada announced they would not run again, leaving two open seats.

The streetcar aside, Vihstadt, fellow member Libby Garvey, and their political backer Peter Rousselot have built their political bases by criticizing county spending on a wide range of infrastructure projects. Perhaps some initiatives were unnecessary or overly expensive, but Arlington now needs board members who can articulate a vision to make the county better instead of simply doing less.

Just as some people accused the former board of acting too often as a single bloc, there's the possibility that Garvey and Vihstadt would gain an allied third member and have a bloc of their own which would move the county in a much more conservative direction, halting investment in the county's future rather than continuing the kinds of policies which have made Arlington County a national model for sustainable growth.

There are six Democratic candidates for the two seats. Arlington Democrats will have the ability to vote for two apiece. Chris Slatt says,

Peter Fallon and Katie Cristol are both solid pro-smart-growth candidates. Peter has the experience (he's been on practically every commission you can be on), while Katie brings a new perspective, youth and energy.

Peter has a track record of supporting transit, biking, and walking. Katie doesn't have a record she can point to, but even a brief conversation with her makes it clear that she sees Arlington's commitment to smart growth as what has made it so desirable as a place to live and she's committed to doing whatever needs to be done to keep it moving forward.

James Lander isn't anti-smart-growth, but it doesn't appear to be a focus or a passion. There is nothing smart-growth-y on his issues page, for instance. Andrew Schneider is in the midst of his first term on Arlington's Transportation Commission and has largely voted in a smart growth way. He also turned in some of the most spot-on answers in a cycling issues questionnaire, but he has taken some potentially anti-transit positions such as a lengthy soliloquy about even the cheaper, redesigned Columbia Pike transit stations being too costly.

Christian Dorsey is a passionate, compelling candidate but has the support of Peter Rousselot (publicly) and Libby Garvey (privately), which is troubling for many given not just their opposition to the streetcar but also the destructive and negative way in which that opposition was presented. Bruce Wiljanen hasn't devoted enough time and effort to his campaign to have a chance at winning.

Steven Yates adds,
I actually know Katie Cristol. I was the stage manager for a production of Clybourne Park that she was in (which was a Greater Greater Washington event, in case any of you went). I can tell you she was a pleasure to work with.

She's a newcomer, so she doesn't have an extensive record on issues to point to, but she is at least saying the right things. On housing she's proposing modest increases in density through things like microunits and allowing renovations to convert single into multi-family housing.

She also supports transit-oriented development and wants to accelerate the TSM 2 alternative on Columbia Pike which includes off-vehicle fare collection and multi-door boarding, as well as greater frequency. She doesn't say the streetcar was a bad idea, just that it's in the "rearview mirror."


Peter Fallon (left) and Katie Cristol (right), two candidates for Arlington County Board. Images from the candidate websites.

Alexandria

William "Bill" Euille has been Alexandria's mayor for twelve years, and for the first time, faces primary competition—in fact, two competitors: councilmembers Kerry Donley and Allison Silberberg. Euille has been an alternate member of the WMATA board since 2000.

One contributor, who wasn't comfortable being named, said:

The article that accompanied the Washington Post's endorsement of Mayor Euille portrayed each candidate succinctly and brilliantly.

Allison Silberberg is a lovely person who is caring and delightful to know one on one; regrettably her votes have been anti-growth of any kind, even to the point of voting against an Alzheimer's care facility on busy Route 7 between a cemetery and a nursing home. She also has no concrete proposals on how to pay for the causes she espouses such as better schools, historic preservation, more parks and open space, etc.

Kerry Donley was mayor for a number of years, as well as being on and off the council subsequently. He is in favor of the Potomac Yard Metro and economic development projects such as the PTO and NSF, which he helped attract to Alexandria, yet he antagonizes many in the community by being dismissive of concerns.

Mayor Euille appears to strike the right balance between listening to citizen input and getting things done, and as the Post says, he was able to limit the recession's impact on the city. Many are concerned that Donley and Euille will split the pro-growth, smart growth, fiscally responsible vote and that both will lose.

Jonathan Krall takes a different view (which, perhaps, helps illustrate the potential for vote-splitting between Euille and Donley):
According to my friends in the bicycling community, they are supporting Donley, even though Euille mentions bicycling more often in the campaign. They cite his comments and votes when he served on the Transportation Commission, Euille's abandonment of the Royal Street bike boulevard project, and Silberberg's weak support on bicycling issues.
Krall wanted to emphasize that all of the views he's talking about are individual people's personal opinions and not the position of any cycling advocacy group.


Bill Euille (left) and Kerry Donley (right), two candidates for Alexandria Mayor. Images from the candidate websites.

Fairfax

The Mason district covers the part of Fairfax County which borders Arlington and the west side of Alexandria. It includes Fairfax's portion of Columbia Pike and the south side of Seven Corners.

That last spot has been a source of major controversy, where a county plan would transform Seven Corners' big-box stores and giant parking lots into mixed-use, walkable (though perhaps only marginally transit-oriented) urban villages.

As the Washington Post's Antonio Olivio reports, current Supervisor Penelope "Penny" Gross supports the transformation, but some neighbors do not, warning it could turn Seven Corners into San Francisco or downtown Washington. That has drawn her two opponents, Jessica Swanson in the Democratic primary and Mollie Loeffler in the November general.

Both say they oppose greater density in the Seven Corners area. The Washington Post endorsed Gross for reelection.

In the Mount Vernon District along the Potomac, four candidates want to succeed retiring delegate Gerald Hyland. This district includes one side of much of Route 1, where Hyland and Lee District supervisor Jeff McKay have taken different positions on the corridor's future. Will Route 1/Richmond Highway remain a traffic sewer flanked with strip malls that divides communities? Can it be a chain of real places with real transit?

The next supervisor could have a significant impact, but our contributors did not have input on this race. If you do, please post it in the comments.

District 45

Delegate Rob Krupicka is retiring, and five candidates are vying to represent the district which includes Alexandria, some of Arlington, and a bit of Fairfax. As Patricia Sullivan explained in the Washington Post, there aren't a lot of clear policy differences between the candidates.

Our contributors felt similarly. One said, "All five candidates are good people, and it's hard to differentiate them on issues. All have built their campaigns primarily on education and women's issues; none have particularly addressed smart growth, planning, or transportation." Jonathan Krall added,

I attended two 45th district debates and took notes on the number of times various candidates mentioned biking, walking, transit, smart growth, etc. In fact, these issues were not discussed a great deal. Transit was only discussed by Craig Fifer, Julie Jakopic and Clarence Tong, who each mentioned it twice.

Tong was the only candidate that mentioned biking, noting that he hears from friends that the National Park Service should plow snow from the Mt Vernon Trail in the winter. Larry Altenburg, Mark Levine, and Tong lost points with me by suggesting that traffic congestion should be addressed rather than made irrelevant by adding transit.

What do you think?

If you have followed any of these races and identified actions or statements from the candidates that relate to urbanist issues, share them with our Virginia readers in the comments. And if you live in Virginia, please vote Tuesday! (Especially if you are a Democrat, because the competitive races are only in the Democratic primary.)

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